Oldest example of high-altitude human settlement discovered in Ethiopia

The Neanderthals
Representational picture Reuters

While working in the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia, archaeologists have discovered earliest evidence to date of human habitation in a high-altitude environment that is over 11,000 feet above sea level.

Even though living in a high-altitude mountain can be very challenging due to the extreme weather, lack of oxygen and lack of resources, but this recent finding in Ethiopia's Bale Mountains suggests a different scenario.

The research, which was published in the journal Science, revealed that the team of archaeologists unearthed a trove of artefacts, which includes stone tools, clay fragments, burnt animal bones and a glass bead at the excavation site.

As per the published study, this finding indicates that people used to live there as early as 47,000 years ago and the discovery represents "the earliest evidence of a prehistoric high-altitude [human] residential site." But the authors of this study, led by researchers from Martin Luther University, are not sure whether the shelter was used intermittently or the occupation was permanent.

However, it should be noted that earlier paleoanthropologists working in east Africa were only concentrating on the lower-altitude locations. But as reported by The New York Times, Götz Ossendorf, an archaeologist at the University of Cologne and lead author of the new study said that this team was "simply the first to go higher."

The team of researchers had to trek more than 700 miles on foot and by packhorse to reach the discovered site, called Fincha Habera, which is now considered the oldest example of high-altitude living. During the research, they found remnants of hearths, which provided charcoal that could be dated back to between 47,000 and 31,000 years ago.

But it is not the first clue of ancient human high-altitude living, as scientists reported that they found jawbone of an extinct human species called Denisovan in the cave, which is located almost 10,700 feet above sea level in China. After analysis, the scientists noted that the specimen was dated to around 160,000-years ago. Earlier another research team also found stone tools at a high on the Tibetan Plateau, with the relics dating between 30 and 40 thousand years ago.

However as per Live Science, after the recent finding, the Ossendorf said that "Prehistoric humans at that time were mobile hunter-gatherers, so they never stayed sedentary at a single site" and it suggests that the settlement was not for permanent purpose. But the current evidence also suggests that these ancient humans spent considerable time at Fincha Habera, which was also believed to be repeatedly populated by humans. Further analysis of the site also revealed that another group of pre-historic humans moved into the site around 10,000 years ago.

The research also revealed that the Fincha Habera's ancient occupants lived at the site during the Last Glacial Maximum, when much of the Bale Mountains were covered with ice. Since Fincha Habera was located beyond the icy region, the ancient humans chose this place as a shelter.

The study also suggested that this location not only offered the residents an ample supply of water but also enough food, as the researchers found "abundant burnt bones, mostly of giant mole-rats."

Related topics : Archaeology